Stars: ** out of Four
Summary: Though excellent in almost every way, the second and third acts plummet so fast that it ruins the effect of a brilliantly played character’s curious case.
Review: For the 2008 Oscars, ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ holds the most nominations, literally one in every category. And for most of these, it absolutely deserves it. The direction is phenomenal, the effects and performances pitch-perfect.
What prevents this good movie from becoming a great movie is a distinctly flawed story.
It all begins with an intriguing introduction, one so iconic that it could be used as the plot for an entire film. That’s the story of a blind clockmaker, whose son goes off to fight in the Great War. Tragicly, the son is killed in combat, leaving the clockmaker with one last goal. He builds a clock for a train station in his native city of New Orleans. When it is unveiled to the public, it ticks backwards, which causes some confusion and disappointment. The blind clockmaker calmly explains that it represents his desire for time to work backwards, so that those who were lost so soon in the Great War could somehow return to their families. After this unvieling, the clockmaker simply vanishes.
This story is told to us by a dying old woman named Daisy, who is lying in a hospital bed in New Orleans during the year 2006. Attended by her daughter, Caroline, she asks of her to read an old journal aloud so Daisy can hear it before she dies. What Caroline reads makes up the bulk of the film’s narrative. It is the memiors of an enigmatic individual named Benjamin Button- who was, as he says, “Born under unusual circumstances”. He has the mysterious, supernatural oddity of aging backwards. The first third of this film, showing Benjamin’s days as an old-young man, is captivating. This is the part of the movie worth watching, in my book. Brad Pitt plays the vulnerable Benjamin, who remains naive and idealistic throughout his whole life. The character he brings to the screen is amazingly well done.
Unfortunately, after Benjamin’s experiences in the Second World War, everything slows way down. Benjamin remains as interesting as he used to be, but his character seems cheated and wasted by a story that is going in the wrong direction. Not that the reverse aging is a problem; that’s not the issue with this story. It is rather that the pure drama of the first act is quickly lost, traded in for a tragic romance. It’s a shame that the romance was not captured well.
There is a lot of material in this movie. It makes it particularly hard for me to explain the problems I have with this movie. My biggest problem is the ending, but that opens up a can-o-worms big enough for me to write a separate article about it. I’ll probably compare its ending to another film, ‘Gran Torino’, which I felt handled itself much better and left you with a smile on your face.
I won’t discourage you from seeing this movie. It is interesting, and quite entertaining at times. You may like it better than I did. To me, it shows a sort of hopelessness, which I didn’t like at all. I think the part of the culture that ‘Benjamin Button’ reflects is a relentless, unfocused search for meaning, which eventually gives up and declares everything futile. That’s not a good way to live. That’s definitely not a good way to die.